A day of preparation as Eugenie Bouchard heads to Australian Open semis

MELBOURNE – There could have been a lot of distractions Wednesday, one day before 19-year-old Montrealer Genie Bouchard took on No. 4 seed Li Na of China in the singles semifinals at the Australian Open.

But the team around her kept it low-key. Almost no media, despite a barrage of requests.

And a surprisingly technical one-hour practice with coach Nick Saviano included some work on basic volley footwork (any club player watching, seeing a top-20 player going through these basics, would either be encouraged – or amazed it still needs to be done). There also was some work on her kick serve – a stroke that's in development but still really in its early stages.

Here's a photo slideshow of Bouchard's Wednesday practice session.

There were a lot more fans watching on Court 9, which has been her practice court for a few days now. And definitely a few more television cameras.

And Bouchard did see some wombats – full-sized, real-life versions of the stuffed one she received from the Genie Army fan club after her upset win over Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals.

But all in all, it was pretty low-key for tennis's new darling.

The WTA Tour site spoke to Canadian Carling Bassett-Seguso, who was the last Canadian to reach a Grand Slam semi-final back in 1984 at the U.S. Open.

Bassett-Seguso, who lives in Florida, said she has been bombarded with messages as her name has come back into the spotlight. She shared her thoughts on what Canadian tennis fans might see Thursday.

"Genie's going to have her work cut out for her with Li. But I think she has no pressure. She's going to go out there and I think Li has a lot of pressure on her, especially from her country, being in the top five. So I'm just going to think positively and I'm sure she's going to go out there with a strong game plan. Hopefully she gets a lot of first serves in and that her percentages are better than Li's."

The first thing Bouchard and her coach will have to do is get caught up on what Li has been doing with new coach Carlos Rodriguez, the longtime coach of former No. 1 Justine Henin.

Bouchard referred to Li as being "very strong from the back (court)" in her post-game interview after defeating Ivanovic. But Li is becoming a lot more than that; and in the late stages of her career, she seems rejuvenated.

Li is moving forward, throwing in the occasional serve and volley, and generally speaking after matches of not having done her job if she didn't come to the net enough.

That's the kind of varied game plan that will throw an opponent off-balance. So if Bouchard is expecting a baseline slugfest that will allow her to finish some points off at the net, she might be in for a surprise.

Thus far, Bouchard has demonstrate remarkably few nerves about her lofty circumstances. At least publicly, she's the least surprised person in tennis about finding herself in the semifinals.

Will that sang froid continue? It's likely. At this point, a sudden attack of nerves wouldn't even make sense.

As she did with Ivanovic, Bouchard has the advantage of having already faced this top opponent on a big stage. With Ivanovic, it was last summer at Wimbledon (and she defeated her).

With Li, it was the Rogers Cup, in her hometown, on her home court, in the summer of 2012.

That was just weeks after Bouchard won the junior Wimbledon title. And the 6-4, 6-4 score in Li's favour is fairly representative of how competitive that match was.

But it was eons ago, at least in tennis terms; Bouchard's pro career had begun, but in fits and starts as she mixed in some junior tournaments.

In short, the two are very different players now compared to 18 months ago.

With Serena Williams and defending champion Victoria Azarenka (ousted in a masterful performance by Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals Wednesday) both out, the four remaining players in the women's singles draw have to sense this golden opportunity.

Of the four, only Li has won a major title – in 2011 at the French Open. But she also has done superbly well in Australia. She probably should have won it in 2012; last year, she fell twice, and hit her head in the final against Victoria Azarenka.

Radwanska, the No. 5 seed, has never won a major. But she has been in a Wimbledon final.

No one gives No. 20 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia much of a shot against Radwanska. But she's been around awhile, the fact that this may be the best chance she'll ever have to bag a major title could spur her on.

As for Bouchard, there isn't any history or precedent to go on.

Here's what she said after that loss to Li in Montreal:

"Li Na plays deep and she hits hard, and she puts a lot of pressure on you, so it was difficult. But I had my chances. I played well but not all the time, but I know I will learn a lot, thanks to that match."

She has done exactly that.

It will be a lot warmer Thursday than it has been the past few days - topping out at about 30C. Both players have dealt with the extreme heat of a week ago. But that's another sudden change in temperature after a few cooler days.

It's worth noting that in the third set of Bouchard's match against Ivanovic, Bouchard had the ice towel around her neck on changeovers, even though the temperature wasn't extreme in the least.

Also worth noting was the appearance of some tape on her right shoulder in practice Wednesday. Bouchard discarded the usual tank tops for a more modest T-shirt for the practice, but the tape still was peeking out from underneath.

In the end, it will be a simple formula Thursday: Bouchard will have to play well – all the time.

She'll have to serve well. She'll have to adjust to everything Li may throw at her. And she'll have to hope Li doesn't play her absolute best because at this stage, her best is better than Bouchard's best.